The Pulaski County Young Marines are proud to announce that 15 recruits recently graduated from an intense 26-hour course and can officially wear the Young Marines uniform.

Pulaski County Young Marines Company Commander Steve Nutter believes the program helps change the lives of young adults, improving them physically and mentally through a program founded on self- discipline and community service.

"We focus on character building, leadership, and a healthy, drug-free lifestyle for the kids," he said.

"We want to increase their knowledge, self-esteem, and help them be able to speak in front of their peers and adults. We want to to build better citizens for the community."

To become a Young Marine, recruits not only have to go through the 26-hour orientation process, but also pass a written ­exam, a physical fitness test, and a practical application exam.

"It's a youth education service program for both boys and girls for ages 8 to 18," Nutter said. "It was founded in 1958 by a group of Marines and has grown to about 240 units with 10,000 young marines and about 3,000 volunteer nationwide."

The group meets on Fort Leonard Wood every other Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon

"We concentrate on military history, customs and courtesies with handling the flag, and how to address adults and peers. We also focus a lot on physical fitness and community service.

Nutter stresses that this group is made up mostly of civilian children, and isn't for only children who are considering joining the military.

One of the things we want to stress is that this is not a recruiting tool for any branch of the military," he said. "We have had a few to do military service, but but most do not.

The group also participates in numerous community service activities. The Young Marines provide a color guard for community events, participate in Fort Leonard Wood and Waynesville Memorial Day activities, place flags on graves at local cemeteries, help support veterans groups, and volunteer at Life Care Center events.

Currently, the Young Marines are seeking sponsorship for a trip to Washington D.C. The unit has been invited to march in the Memorial Day Parade at the nation's capital. Unfortunately because of the sequester, the group can't stay at the marine base as originally planned and needs financial support for lodging and other transportation costs.

Nutter said that the community is very supportive of the program and always is willing to help out.

"Every time we come out in town and do a fundraiser, the overwhelming support from the community always amazes me. The support that the community gives the Young Marines always seems to be above and beyond," he said.

To see how to contribute to the Young Marines, call Steve Nutter at (573) 528-4479.